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ACLU at Sundance: "Recycle" Confronts the Makings of a Terrorist

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January 24, 2008

Al Massad’s documentary “Recycle” seeks to answer the question: “What makes a terrorist?” While the film unveils many contributing factors – like poverty, lack of opportunity, humiliation, and religious doctrine – I’m not sure I left the screening room with a clear answer to this question, and I don’t think I was alone. Perhaps it’s is largely because, unlike the daily bombardment of media spin we see in the west about the war on terror and good vs. evil, “Recycle” suggests the potential for evil can emerge quietly, in the midst of everyday circumstances. That it isn’t necessarily a black-and-white defining moment or personal characteristic that turns someone into a terrorist.

One very powerful moment in the film comes when some of the men talk about freedom of speech. Their view: when those who cannot express their ideas freely, they express their ideas through violence. Another interesting question posed by some of the men in the film: When Osama Bin Laden destroyed the World Trade Center, did he consider the damage he was doing to all Muslims?

During the post-screening Q&A, audience members were tentative with their questions. Al Massad said he learned from filming “Recycle” that there is no black and white – it’s much more complex than that.He also said the film is not clearly intended for either a western audience or a Middle Eastern audience; people from both parts of the world are likely to be upset by parts of it.

I do think he was brave in making the film and brave in showing it. It made me think how grateful we should be that we live in a society that, for the most part, stands proudly by the principals that are questioned in this film – freedom of speech, religion, and dissent.